Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will postpone its annual meeting until January as the surge in new coronavirus infections make large gatherings impossible.
The CDU, which is the party of chancellor Angela Merkel and the majority coalition partner in the current federal government with the Social Democrats (SPD), was due to elect a new chairman on 4 December.
Whoever leads the CDU is also likely to be the candidate they put forward for chancellor in the next federal elections, due to take place in October 2021.
The current CDU head is Merkel’s former protégé Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who announced in February this year that she would step down as party leader and not run for chancellor candidate in the wake of a scandal where CDU delegates in the eastern German state of Thuringia went against the conservative party’s ban on cooperating with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
Merkel, whose popularity ratings have soared during her handling of the COVID-19 crisis since March, has repeatedly ruled out running for another term when this one ends in October 2021.
There are currently three men who have put themselves forward replace Kramp-Karrenbauer as party leader — and throw their hats in the ring to be the next chancellor.
One is Armin Laschet, the leader of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Laschet is an ally of Merkel, but has been criticised for his comparatively lax handing of the pandemic in what is Germany’s most populous state.
Norbert Röttgen, the head of the parliamentary affairs committee and former environment minister is also in the running.
Friedrich Merz, a former corporate lawyer, who came close to winning the CDU leadership in 2018 but was pipped by Kramp-Karrenbauer, is keen to win the vote this time around.
Merz left politics in 2009 for the private sector, where he held a number of supervisory board roles, including chairman of the supervisory board of BlackRock Germany.
He criticised the postponement of the party congress, telling public broadcaster ARD on Monday that “considerable parts of the party establishment... want to prevent me from becoming party chairman."
CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak said today that the CDU would decide at its next presidium meeting on 14 December whether or not a physical party conference will even be possible in the foreseeable future, or whether it postal voting would be the best option.
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